Prospects to watch: Carolina Mudcats

Shortstop Erik Gonzalez had an amazing season last year, piling up 53 extra base hits and making some significant strides both with his bat and his defense.

Dan Mendlik/Cleveland Indians

The Carolina Mudcats enter their third season as the Cleveland Indians High-A affiliate.

Last season they were loaded with talent in the lineup, although prospect talent does not always result in winning in the minor leagues as they finished the year 57-83 and in last place in the Southern Division of the Carolina League. While they are not as loaded this season they feature some interesting prospects to keep an eye on at the outset of the season.

Here is an overview of the roster and who to keep an eye on…

WHO TO WATCH

Yandy Diaz (3B): Diaz is a 22-year old defector from Cuba the Indians recently signed who really impressed with his bat during spring training. He has very good hitting instincts and looks like he could be an extra base hit machine with his ability to run and pound the gaps. The Indians are trying to find a position for him and will start him out at third base, but he could end up in the outfield. He is mysterious because he is so new, which certainly adds to his intrigue.

Prospects to watch: Akron RubberDucks

Erik Gonzalez (SS): Gonzalez had an amazing season last year as he piled up 53 extra base hits and really made some significant strides both with his bat and his defense. Those improvements earned him a spot on the 40-man roster in the offseason. Now, he needs to prove it was not a fluke and start showing some consistency to his game. His athleticism and versatility are exciting, but the Indians are committed to developing him mainly as a shortstop this season to see where he takes them.

Ryan Merritt (LHP): Merritt won’t light up a radar gun, but he knows how to pitch. He is sort of like a left-handed version of Josh Tomlin as a pitcher who has average stuff at best across the board and doesn’t throw hard, but has an excellent feel for pitching, commands all of his pitches well, and is a competitor on the mound. The Indians are really high on him and believe he has the makings of a back end Major League starter.

Shawn Morimando (LHP): Morimando has really made some good strides since turning pro and even though he is repeating at Carolina he has the goods to move to Double-A Akron quickly if he can hone in on his command. He has some good athleticism and strength, and features a good low 90s fastball with a wide range of secondary offerings that have Major League potential. This is a guy who could be primed for a breakout season.

Alex Monsalve (C): Monsalve struggled with an arm injury last season which ended up being a lost year for him. Now that he is healthy he is looking to re-establish himself as a legit catching prospect for the Indians and show some consistency with the bat. He is one of the most physical players in the entire organization, has some untapped power and some good catch and throw skills that he is still refining. This is a big year for him as he needs to find himself or could fall by the wayside as a prospect.

Logan Vick (OF): Vick is the consummate gamer who does not wow with any real plus tool but plays the game hard, shows a patient, disciplined approach where he is not afraid to take walks, and has a little pop in his bat. He can also run a little and has some versatility on defense. He is a tablesetter and should bat at or near the top of the Mudcats lineup for most of the season.

Prospects to watch: Columbus Clippers

LeVon Washington (OF): Washington is without a doubt one of the most exciting prospects in the Indians system to watch because of his impact speed to go along with a good bat that has a little bit of thunder in it. But he has really struggled with injuries over the last three seasons and he leaves a lot to be desired with his defense. This will be his first real exposure above Low-A, and a big showing at Carolina can go a long way in bringing back a lot of believers back onto his prospect bandwagon.

DARK HORSE

Elvis Araujo (LHP): Araujo is making the conversion to a full time reliever. He has really struggled with injuries over his career, so the Indians are trying to keep him healthy by keeping him in the bullpen. It is also a way to maximize his potential because the Indians love his size, mid 90s fastball and good breaking ball from the left side.

Louis Head (RHP): Head really came on strong last season and established himself as one of the Indians better mid-level relievers. He has a good low 90s fastball, a solid hard slider and really goes after hitters. He has some potential as a good pen arm in the upper levels of the system and potentially in the big leagues.

Cole Sulser (RHP): Sulser came in as an unheralded senior out of Dartmouth College last season, but wowed in his first pro campaign at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley racking up a 1.83 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 54 innings. He also surprised with some late season velocity gains as he got into the low 90s, and is a pitcher the Indians want to see more of as a starter.

THE REST

D.J. Brown (RHP), Anthony Gallas (OF), Todd Hankins (INF), Jacob Lee (RHP), Ollie Linton (OF), Jeremy Lucas (C), Josh Martin (RHP), Yhoxian Medina (INF), Carlos Melo (RHP), Rob Nixon (RHP), Michael Peoples (RHP), Joe Sever (1B/3B), Grant Sides (RHP), Benny Suarez (RHP), Charlie Valerio (C)